Nike’s Ad Campaign and the Meaning of Patriotism

Nike’s latest ad campaign, featuring player Colin Kaepernick will roll out tonight. The print and video ads use the phrase “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” There has been much criticism of this as hyperbole and those critics are probably right. ‘Sacrificing everything’ is probably a bridge too far, even in the most generous of interpretation. Those critics that have been most vocal have been sharing a photoshopped image of former NFL player and military member Pat Tillman using the same slogan.

Nike's Ad Campaign and the Meaning of Patriotism

As many readers will recall, after 9/11, Tillman left the NFL and joined the Army, eventually becoming a Ranger and dying in a friendly-fire incident in 2004. Since that year his memory has been repeatedly used by the Right to criticize those who do not fully support a hawkish foreign policy. Ignoring the fact that Tillman’s biographer and his own wife have said that he would never have wanted his death to be politicized, every few years he reappears in Facebook feeds in another round of unfortunate memes intended to support the cause of the day.

I’m not interested in discussing Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem here. For the record, I fully support his right to do so, even if I am generally skeptical about the value of protests. What I am continually troubled by is the continued fetishization of military service in social media, a trend that has been taking place for the last 17 years. This latest iteration tells me that there is a troubling number of self-absorbed citizens in our country that have no ability to see past their own beliefs and consider other ways of viewing the world.

Recently I began a project of digitizing all of my family’s photos. I have been working on my grandparents’ collection and as I went through the 1940s I was struck by how many of my relatives appear in photos wearing military uniforms. Per the New York Times, 12 percent of the U.S. population served in the military during World War II verses about 0.5 percent today.  There are good reasons for this disparity of course. Technology has made our military more powerful, thus requiring less actual troops. More kids go to college. And there’s also the ending of the draft.

In writing this piece I realized that I wasn’t familiar with the draft/volunteer numbers for WWII. According to the national WWII Museum 61.2% of the troops that served were draftees. That’s 11,535,000 men. At a rate of 8.6 combat deaths per 1,000 that also means that 1,341,279 draftees died during the war, or about 0.89% of our total population. Compared with the 0.5% of our population that currently serve in the military and a much smaller % that are likely to die in combat, this is a radical change in the realities of warfare. As the NYT also notes, “Together, these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension.”

Since 9/11, a celebration of military service has had a disproportionate impact on our national conversation. It is popular today to say that the military protects our freedoms around the globe. There are arguments in support of this position, but I admittedly land on the other side of the topic. While I truly do value the work of the military and its necessity, I also abhor what David Masciotra calls ‘forced troop worship and compulsory patriotism’.  He writes:

The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

The problem that Masciotra describes is not the historical act of celebrating our soldiers. We have always done this. History is full of examples of parades and gatherings for veterans. We have also made a habit of raising our military leaders into the highest ranks of power in the United States. To the contrary, the problem today is the fetishization of service itself and the notion that anything other than a hand over the heart during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner or enthusiastic applause when the ballpark announcer asks veterans to stand, is somehow less than patriotic. What it demonstrates, from my perspective, is an incredibly narrow view of patriotism and what it means to actually be a hero. Masciotra puts it best:

If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.

The reason that the current Supreme Court nomination has become so contentious is because we see the incredible necessity of a judicial branch that protects the efforts of the protester as much as the soldier. At the same time, we are so worried that the other side might gain a perceived advantage that we desperately fight against the diminishment of our own power, as if this is a zero sum game. Maybe what we need the most is a simple re-education in civics before we fully forget the founding ideals of our country.


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Mike Dwyer writes about culture and the outdoors for Ordinary Times. He is also one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky. Mike serves on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and you can also find him on Instagram here. He lives with his wife in the suburbs of Louisville, KY.

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104 thoughts on “Nike’s Ad Campaign and the Meaning of Patriotism

  1. This is awesome, Mike, especially because it seems to fly in the face of what some might consider your otherwise conservative tribal markers. So thank you for being independent minded in seeing that this idea of military and law enforcement glorification has left us worse for it. It has allowed us to not ask hard questions about US involvement in all sorts of corners of the globe for fear of accusations of questioning and disparaging the troops and also to see the police misbehavior issue in a binary frame where any questioning of the LEO’s lack of accountability in many situations is seen as protecting and coddling “criminals” because, after all, if the police come calling, you must be doing something wrong.

    Anyway, lots of thoughts about this and thank you for articulating many of mine so well.

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  2. Mike, you’re on a roll!

    I’ve always held that if we’re going to have a large standing army, something I don’t agree with in the least, despite Lindsay Graham’s fearmongering from the dais today, then we ought to have a draft. A country with no skin in the game goes off on expensive, pointless ventures in the Middle East without a thought. A parent with a son drafted, or about to be drafted, into an army fighting an unwinnable war against a foe that may or may not exist, might just pay a little more attention to the decisions being made as to whether that army is going to go off and fight.

    And, lest we forget, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, something the Army tried to bury.

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    • …if we’re going to have a large standing army… then we ought to have a draft.

      The problem with that is that the Army’s recruitment goals for all of the Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard, is about 80,000 per year. This coming school year, the estimate is that there will be ~3.6 million high-school graduates. You’re never going to get a draft if only 2.2% get chosen; too many of the ones who lose the lottery are going to resent it forever.

      I was in the last group of 18-year-olds that got lottery numbers. I had a low number. Despite his many shortcomings, I will always have a bit of a soft spot for Dick Nixon, who killed the draft a month before I had to make a choice from what I regarded as a bunch of bad options. I was damn sure not going to let the Army send me to SE Asia. The Navy or the Air Force would have taken me if I volunteered and promised me either a programming or electronics nowhere-close-to-combat specialty, but I had to sign on for four years. I could have moved to Canada and one or more universities there would almost certainly have accepted me. What I wanted to do was stay in the academic program I was already in. Dick let me do that.

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        • Current Army personnel are just a hair under a million, about 470,000 active duty. The standard Army enlistment period is eight years, most commonly with four years of active duty followed by four years in a reserve component. The majority of active duty personnel are corporal- and sergeant-level specialists.

          Assuming steady state and a four-year active duty term, the Army needs 117,500 new bodies a year. The Army is offering generous reenlistment bonuses for those high-end specialists to extend their active duty time (or within limits, move back from reserve to active duty), and as a result, retention rates are near all-time highs. If a third of the people who would be moving from active to reserve status stay on active duty, you get a recruitment target around 80,000.

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            • But is there a choice? The Army wants to add eight weeks to infantry training before assigning new enlisted. An M1A1 tank systems service technician does 10 weeks of basic and 24 weeks of advanced training before assignment. They are currently offering up to $40K bonuses to people who can finish the satellite communications systems operator-maintainer training. All of those make for a lot of pressure to hang on to personnel longer (ie, why most positions require you to enlist for four years active duty). Israel’s mandatory service term is up to three years now, and the IDF has pretty much admitted that’s not long enough given the time/money spent on training. They’re looking at how to get to an all-volunteer military.

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  3. At a rate of 8.6 combat deaths per 1,000 that also means that 1,341,279 draftees died during the war, or about 0.89% of our total population.

    That’s way high. We only lost about 400,000 people in WW-II, barely more than Lithuania and somewhat less than Hungary, Romania, Greece, France, Korea, Italy, and the UK, and vastly less than India, China, Germany, Japan, or the Soviet Union. As a percentage of the population, we suffered a 0.32% death rate, which is less than what India, Ethiopia, Belgium, or Norway suffered. We’re not even in the same league as serious combatants that had double-digit death percentages. Belarus, for example, lost around a quarter of its prewar population.

    Now had we taken a knee, things would have been much, much worse.

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  4. Yes, as you say our losses were small compared to the other main players; our combat deaths were only about 40,000 more than the Hungarian Jews killed at Auschwitz. The big battles on the eastern front had more killed than we did the entire war.
    One the one hand, it’s really good that our country (and our population) hasn’t been devastated by a war for about 150 years. On the other hand, we seem to have grown a large class of chicken hawks ready to cry havoc, etc.
    Good piece, Mike. As a vet, I hate the way we get treated as a monolithic group, and the authority some people think they can claim by using their (or other’s) service.

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  5. I’m pretty conservative, and I haven’t noticed Pat Tillman being used the way you describe. (Then again, I stay off Facebook, so I avoid a lot of dumb memes.) But I think he’s a reasonable antipode to Kaepernick. He was an NFL player who actually believed in something and sacrificed everything. That last bit, sacrificing everything, limits the number of possible choices to basically someone who died or who gave up every earthly thing.

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    • But I think he’s a reasonable antipode to Kaepernick. He was an NFL player who actually believed in something and sacrificed everything. That last bit, sacrificing everything, limits the number of possible choices to basically someone who died or who gave up every earthly thing.

      I think we are probably agreeing, but I want to point that e en in Kaepernick didn’t sacrifice EVERYTHING, he did essentially sacrifice his career to his protest movement. That’s way more than most people.

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  6. To the contrary, the problem today is the fetishization of service itself

    I loathe this trend. I loathe it for those of us who are or have served, and I loathe it even more for first responders, who never have to face the prospect of deployment, or obey the UCMJ, in the course of their duties.

    Yes, we all had tough jobs, and I appreciate the well intentioned thanks, but the fetishization has got to stop.

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  7. This was a good piece, thanks for sharing. I can never decide if the undo hero worship comes from the infantilizing tendencies of our culture, panic about the increasing separation most citizens have from our praetorian class, or is just the result of endless streams of propaganda. Either way it isn’t healthy and it makes us all stupider. Whenever something like this is going around all I can think of is the glorious loyalty oath crusade in Catch-22.

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  8. As far as I can tell, Americans always tended to fetishize soldiers during most of the conflicts we were involved with. They were always supposed to be these fine, splendid sexy fellows that women love. Modern times extends the soldier fetish to female soldiers and LGBT soldiers. The possible exception to our soldier fetsih was Vietnam and that didn’t really work out well for liberals or leftists in the end.

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    • I remember the way my father and uncles spoke about their service in WWII, and it sounded more like Sgt. Bilko than Rambo.
      That is, even though some of them saw serious combat, their view was pretty unromanticized and down to earth. Their views about the Pentagon were mostly like we view the DMV or something, not like the uncritical worship shown by the Sunday morning chat shows.

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      • Definitely. The romanticization we see today is in part a product of how few Americans actually are in the military. Back when it was a normal thing, people knew better. Myself, I was a military brat. I grew up in this world. In high school I often hung out with active duty Marines. Many were good guys. Some were idiots. Some were jerks. Regardless, I feel little urge to romanticize them.

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  9. In my opinion, when we had a draft people could at least say ‘my name was in the hat, I just didn’t get drawn’. Once the draft was over and as numbers dwindled down to the current 99.5% of the population that is not serving… i think there is a certain amount of guilt involved. I have been critical of Sam Wilkinson for what I perceive as white guilt in some of his writing, but I also think a sort of non-service guilt affects many conservatives. They advocate policies which take us to war but don’t actually serve themselves, and so they make it their mission to attack anything they believe is unpatriotic or not fully supporting our troops.

    My grandfather volunteered for OCS with the Army during WWII and after they disbanded the program he had to re-enter the draft pool. When his number came up he joined the Navy. Because he was by that time a police officer, they made him an MP in Norfolk and he was never sent overseas. So even though he served in both branches and then spent 40 years as a police officer, putting himself in harm’s way many times, he told me he always felt guilty for not being in the fight during the war. So, I do understand guilt, but not what I see today.

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    • It has long been my feeling that “non-service guilt” (thanks for the phrase, Mr. Dwyer) can explain a great deal about politicians of the Baby Boom era. Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, even W with his cushy Nat’l Guard stint, those sorts of guys. I’m not disagreeing at all with their decisions to get out of going. They made a good choice. But as the years go by, and they see the political advantages and respect given to vets, suddenly they have to fluff out their chests a bit to seem more manly. That part irritates me. I’ll bet those guys spend a lot, a lot, of time on the firing range, building their personal cred level, and unfortunately carrying that need to be a Real Man into powerful positions where they can rattle sabers.

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      • Actually G W Bush put himself at far more risk of death just by flying an F-102 than modern US fighter pilots have in combat. By modern standards, F-102’s were death traps. I’ll have to check my notes, but I think they had a comparable death rate to infantry in Vietnam. As I recall, a double-digit percentage of the planes killed their pilots.

        They were also in use in Vietnam when he became an F-102 pilot. They flew out of Tan Son Nhut, Danang, Ben Hoa, and Don Muang Thailand. They escorted B-52 bombers and then were used for ground attack, with the last being lost to an accident in 1969. In 1968 an F-102 was downed by a Mig-21, the only air-to-air loss. When Bush signed up the Texas Air National Guard was rotating F-102 units through Vietnam, and he volunteered for that duty. He was turned down because other pilots had more flight hours. There were no other fighter options in the Texas ANG at that time.

        He stopped flying so returning combat pilots could keep their hours up to get airline jobs.

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        • To look at it from the other side… To deal with a certain amount of guilt for having served (shouldna been there; shouldna been doin’ that), I gave about 30 gallons of blood over the years. Finally had to stop when my doctor got panicky about my ferritin levels. Looking back, maybe I should have gone for the FD…

          On the other other hand, memory just served up the fact that my donations got me a few personal minutes with R. Heinlein (who loved blood donors). So there’s that.

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    • I think there’s something to this, though while guilt plays its role I think so do the echo chambers and tribal signals of right wing culture. My suspicion is that we talk a lot more about the version of this phenomenon on the left at OT because of the social class attributes of the posters/commentariat. But it exists on the right too, where every SOB who doesn’t wear 30 flag lapels or bow his head, hat off at a ball game, while tearing up for for the honor guard needs an ass kicking/condescending lesson in respect. And there may be some real kernals of respect buried way deep down in there for the sacrifices some people in uniform have made but I think a lot of this stuff (especially online) has more to do with showing who you are culturally/politically, and maybe more importantly who you aren’t.

      Chip’s comment above about Sgt. Bilko v. Rambo is an interesting one. I have never been in the military but my guess is feelings about the experience are as varied as the people who have been. A close friend of mine was in the Army in the early years of the Iraq war. This was during the recruiting drought and he ended up stop lossed and doing 3 overseas tours, 2 in Iraq and 1 in Afghanistan. I remember asking him when he was on leave after his first tour in Iraq what it was like, and what he did when he was on duty. His response was to roll his eyes and say in a pretty sardonic tone ‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’

      Now I know there are others who are much more solemn about their experiences but I found his response to be the kind of corrective that’s at best absent from our discourse and at worst considered deeply wrong, evil, and unpatriotic. Maybe if there was more of it political leaders would have a tougher time using the armed services as a shield from scrutiny. The military itself is at the end of the day a big government organization and it shouldn’t be beyond reproach. People who act like it should be, even if its just to show their conservative bona fides are IMO playing a very dangerous game.

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      • Chip’s comment above about Sgt. Bilko v. Rambo is an interesting one.

        Why was Sgt. Bilko (and shows like it, like MASH) so popular? Because they were very reflective of truth. The tip of the spear is but a small fraction of the whole weapon. For every soldier in combat, there are upwards of maybe half a dozen people supporting that soldier (depending on the type of fighter).

        While most of the military learns how to fight, only a small number of them actually do the fighting. The rest are keeping that small number alive, informed, transported, supplied, and equipped.

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        • Over at LGM, they had a lot of fun batting around Jesse Kelly, who is a veteran and traffics in this sort of comic book descriptions of soldiers:

          They don’t always do well back in society. Because they’re savages. You wouldn’t want them near your wife. Unless she was in a bad neighborhood and needed someone to walk her home at night. Then there’s nobody else you’d rather have by her side.

          Which sounds more like a 12 year olds idea of a soldier than anyone who has actually interacted with real living human beings.

          Because even as someone who has never worn a uniform, I know that how to motivate, train, organize and effectively lead human beings to victory is a problem that has preoccupied military organizations for literally millennia.

          The guys Kelly describes don’t need any of that. They don’t need food and supplies, they never need anything to boost and create morale and camaraderie, they never need unit cohesion or discipline.
          Nope, they are just self contained killing machines who operate on their own internal motivation.

          So all the supply technicians, cooks, fuel depot workers, medics, psychologists, payroll accountants, military bandmembers are just extraneous pussies, irrelevant and unworthy of respect and attention.

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          • Thing is, the logistics train is still trained to fight, that is just not their primary job. They have to be trained to fight, since they might be working in a combat zone.

            I was trained as a fire fighter in the Navy, and I learned the basics of rifle marksmanship, but my job was fixing the hovercraft. Putting out fires and shooting a rifle were secondary tasks I might have to do because the boat might fly into combat, so it was prudent to make sure I was trained to do those things (same with first aid & CPR, etc.); but if you ask the Marines I served with if they’d prefer me on the firing line with them, or if I should be fixing the boat, they’d take my rifle and hand me a wrench.

            The honor comes not from the job you did, but whether or not you did that job to the best of your abilities.

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          • To echo a boot camp SGT I know, someone should track down whoever came up with that ‘Army of One’ promotion and smack them in the head.

            The Lone Wolf soldier is an old trope and one with deep roots in American lore. Just look at all the ‘lone gunfighter comes to town, cleans out the whole gang of bad guys, and rides off into the sunset’ stories and films. One person can in fact make a huge difference, but the idea that a military should operate like a band of single players in a melee is absurd. And that soldiers, even those whose primary job is frontline combat, should be a bunch of berserker undisciplined animals as that quote implies is insane, idiotic and insulting.

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    • Most cultures probably don’t respect their soldiers, many not even a little bit. English culture didn’t until long after Waterloo. British soldiers killed at Waterloo were left to rot and then ground into bone meal for gardens. Soldiers were poor, uneducated louts who had little to offer society, and who were only kept in line with the lash. It took a long time for to change that perception by changing the reality of being a soldier.

      In many countries they’re often still hardly more than thugs who loot and harass the population. Look at Africa, parts of Latin America, or much of the Middle East for examples.

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    • I WENT into a public ‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
      The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ” We serve no red-coats here.”
      The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
      I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
      O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, go away ” ;
      But it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play
      The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
      O it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

      I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
      They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
      They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
      But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
      For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, wait outside “;
      But it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide
      The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
      O it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide.

      Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
      Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.
      An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
      Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
      Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul? ”
      But it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes ” when the drums begin to roll
      The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
      O it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes, ” when the drums begin to roll.

      We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
      But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
      An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
      Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
      While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be’ind,”
      But it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind
      There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
      O it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

      You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
      We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
      Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
      The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
      For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! ”
      But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;
      An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
      An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!

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    • George and Mike, you’re right, I should have added class to my equation. Let’s modify my question accordingly. Except in cases of atrocity and blame for military failure, and taking class into account, don’t most societies respect members of their military?

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      • I think it depends on the culture and the time in history. Right now in the US, and especially post WW2, a combination of the professional-ization of soldiering, (theoretical) democratic accountability of the military, and the fact of an all-volunteer force have led to widespread respect. Hollywood props it up with the trope of the good citizen soldier fighting Nazi Germany or Communists, or Commie-Nazis.

        But it’s worth remembering that this country was founded by people who were, at the very least, skeptical of standing armies and the people who made them up. The 3rd Amendment doesn’t seem like something that would be written by folks who would be honored to have soldiers staying in their homes, and like George said there are plenty of places in the world today where soldiers are looked at as armed riff-raff. Feared yes, but not respected.

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  10. I’m not sure about this, so perhaps someone who knows more can step in to clear it up:

    I always assumed that the draft in WWII had as much to do with organizing when people entered the service as opposed to “forcing” people into the service. Massive armed forces being trained; everybody doesn’t go in at one time. In my draft era, the Viet Nam years, you were picked and off you went, often involuntarily. In WWII, was it more a matter of: “Wait your turn. Here’s your due date.”? My impression has always been that there wasn’t much opposition to the war effort in WWII, thus not much opposition to entering the armed forces. As contrasted with the Viet Nam years when…well…

    Does that jibe with anything that is/was actually true?

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  11. Good post. I agree and I say that as a veteran and, like Tillman, someone who joined the Army in the wake of 9/11. Coincidentally, my unit was deployed to the same base, FOB Salerno in Khost, as Tillman’s ranger unit when he was killed. I remember that the FOB shut down all of its phones and the few computers we had for email for about a day. I guess so no one could transmist that news back home. Although, at the time, none of us knew it was Tillman who got killed.

    Of course, this is not a phenomenon that happens in isolation. Police are another obvious group that gets this, but try to have a conversation about teacher pay that doesn’t devolve into a referendum about how much people either like or dislike teachers or teachers’ unions. In general, we have a problem with what can be called the cult of the public servant. Some people want to elevate certain categories of work to a point almost above criticism. It’s not healthy.

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      • But government workers are a national joke. More than that. They’re an international joke…

        OK, as a former civilian government worker, I had not known that. But if some guy on the internet says it, it must be true.

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      • Let me keep going with this. You could say that we respect people based on whether we think they’re helping or hurting us. We like the military when they protect us; we don’t like them when they overthrow the government. We like people who teach our kids, except when we don’t like what they’re teaching. We like doctors, except when they bill us.

        I’m not even sure we respect athletes, at least outside the sport’s fanbase. Tom Brady seems like a jerk, so if you’re a football fan you respect his talent, but if you’re not you think he’s a jerk. Colin Kaepernick isn’t respected as an athlete, but only as a figurehead for a cause. None of this seems wildly out-of-line.

        (ETA: let me note that this isn’t a reply to JR’s 11:58 comment)

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        • There is an interesting disconnect there. The agencies are considered well run, but the individual employees are considered lazy, incompetent, etc. Almost as if the agency manages to get the job done despite the awful employees.

          This is what comes of only ever hearing about the screw-ups in large orgs, and not thinking about the other 99% of the time when everything runs smoothly.

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          • And sometimes the customers ARE wrong. My wife had to get a new license (purse stolen overseas) and she noticed people at the DMV grumbling, but she had made an appointment as was in and out relatively quickly. It’s a case of the office trying to improve service, but people not taking advantage of that service.

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          • I bet the same people who think the USPS is horrible and should be privatized / shut down/ etc. also are unaware how well thought of the USPS is around the world and how much worse other people postal systems are, even those in countries with otherwise quite good public services.

            Also, even among Americans, the IRS actually has had a consistent favorable rating. For all the talk about “abolishing ICE” being extremist, “abolishing the IRS” is far more extreme.

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  12. Two points: The military service fetish is strictly conditional on following the script. Deviate from this and the service is at best irrelevant and often weaponized against you. John Kerry is the obvious example, but far from the only one. Nor is this strictly a Republican vs. Democrat thing. Trump mocked McCain for getting captured. It turned out that Republicans were OK with this. In McCain’s case it wasn’t so much that he deviated from the script as that the script changed, but the result was the same.

    Second point: My reflexive response to displays of conspicuous patriotism is to assume that something is being hidden here, or this person would not feel the need to protest too much. It is the same phenomenon as the virulently anti-gay propagandist who sneaks into motel rooms with gay prostitutes. Hence my unsurprise at our most conspicuously patriotic citizens being entirely comfortable with pro-Russian policies.

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  13. I recently watched a masterful use of “the veterans” to manipulate an entire legislative committee into rejecting an amendment to a bill. The bill under debate was to codify work requirements for able-bodied people to collect SNAP benefits. The proposed amendment would specifically exempt disabled veterans from the work requirements. One delegate who strongly disagreed with the proposed amendment gave a speech along the lines of: “In my experience, all the vets I know WANT to work. They are working or looking for work. Our veterans don’t need this exception because they are hard working people.”

    There is a lot to debate in that statement, but I was bemused by her usage of veterans to make her point. Her intention was not really to defend the dignity of the noble veteran, but to make sure the restrictions on “food stamps” applied to as many people as possible. By invoking the “hard working” veterans as essentially being “above” the need for the special protection she creates a human shield, a point that cannot be safely countered. It is brilliant strategy, really; who’s going to argue? Who is going to step up and disagree that veterans are hard working people? No one who wants to be re-elected, surely.

    Candidly, this amendment was unnecessary because MOST disabled veterans likely would have been exempt from the requirements by the definition of “able bodied” (though not necessarily, because disabled means different things to the VA than to state law), but it is worth noting that legislation specifically intended to help veterans was killed by a politician using their heroism against them.

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  14. Something I just posted on FB (because people were being stupid):

    Man, I love this crap. Since when the hell did the NATIONAL anthem become special for just us vets?

    I don’t know about you guys, but the only time I ever heard the National Anthem while I was in the Navy was when I was playing it, during a parade or something, out among the civilians, for them. The music I associate with my service is not, and has NEVER been the national anthem, it’s been Reveille, Taps, Anchors Aweigh, and the Marine Corps Hymn (because I spent a lot of time with Marines).

    If someone was pulling shit while Taps was playing, then I might, MIGHT, take some offense to that.

    But the SSB being played before a game? A game where a whole bunch a very well paid athletes play a game for men and women who are fantastically wealthy (most of whom, owners and athletes alike, never served)? And you feel disrespected because a guy took a knee during a song?

    Shit, I ain’t interested in symbolic gestures. I want discounts, or special seating, or free beer. Playing a song, or having a few fighter jets fly overhead doesn’t put money in my pocket. How about those very powerful people lobby for the VA to be better funded, or donate vast sums to veterans tuition assistance (how many vets are currently fucked thanks to crappy colleges sucking away their GI BIlls for jack?), or to help homeless vets, or the kids of those who died (over there or here at home).

    I can think of dozens of ways people can show respect for us vets that are meaningful, that have real impacts in our lives. Things that actually requires them to give more of themselves to us than just a few minutes at the start of a game.

    But to get pissed over how one person quietly acts during a song that isn’t really for us (hint: it’s for the whole effing country, that’s why it’s the NATIONAL Anthem, duh)… If one stupid symbolic act during another silly symbolic act gets you that hot and bothered… You guys don’t think much of your service, or anyone else’s, do you?

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  15. I want to echo the kudos for this piece.

    I dismissed it at the time, but in hindsight the DoD sponsorship of ‘patriotism’ was singularly ill-advised. I dismissed it at the time, because, having been in a recruiting command for a while, I understood the need for national marketing campaigns. But in retrospect, the way these events were handled was a qualitatively different thing from Blue Angel air shows and sticking a label on a race car

    Another part of the problem is that these wars keep on keeping on. For those of us old enough to remember Desert Shield and Desert Storm, there was a huge ramp-up of patriotic rah rah support the troops stuff. Peaking of course with Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl Star Spangled Banner. And was a deliberate, society-wide (i.e. not orchestrated by the government) counterpoint to reputation (illusion?) on how Da Troops were treated during and after Vietnam.

    But when Desert Storm ended and everyone came home that summer, everything basically went back to normal. And even less(?) than normal, a new equilibrium with the dissolution of the USSR and the final end of the Cold War.

    They sort of got the band back together after 9/11, but instead of a gig that lasted about a year, it’s at 17 years and counting. True, there’s a quantitative difference since the 2011 Iraq exit and the drawdown of Afghanistan forces to high 4 digits (which may be, and probably is also qualitative difference), but there’s a lack of a clean break that even Vietnam provided.

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    • I am frankly getting tired of people getting pissed about this because they claim the SSB is being played for fallen vets.

      As I mention up above, we have a large number of appropriate times and places to honor the fallen. The idea that a ball game is one of those times really sticks in my craw.

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      • The McCain illness and death was rather instructional, as there where many people who insisted that NFL pregame was all about honoring vets, yet gleefully ripped, demeaned, and danced on the grave of a decorated combat vet over political differences. Stadiums, cheering crowds, choreographed renditions, flyovers-all of that is well and good, but it is also patriotism at it’s easiest. Loving your country enough to protect the freedom of another citizen who is using that freedom to advocate against things you deeply care about is hard. But it is much more “patriotic” than just spectating at the show.

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    • Another part of the problem is that these wars keep on keeping on.

      We’ve hit the point (i.e. the world is so small) where it’s less expensive to be there than to not be there.

      One 911 is more expensive than 100 years of fighting over there. Obama pulled out of Iraq and then had to go back.

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      • The cost of the wars is about 4 Trillion dollars in direct costs and almost 7,000 lives, and climbing.
        The cost of 9-11 was a few billion and 3,000 lives.

        Since 9-11, there is a cost,uncalculated, of all the security procedures we live with. We spend almost half a trillion every single year on Homeland Security; Add to this the budgets of 50 states who mirror this in various ways; Add to this the cost of millions of private companies and real estate owners who spend on security guards, metal detectors at entrances.

        I think it is fair to say that the total costs attributable to 9-11 and its aftermath can easily be over 10 Trillion dollars, and rises every year.

        Add to this the incalculable but real cost of the damage done to our foreign relationships. The destruction of the Hussein regime unleashed Iran to become the regional power with the capability to challenge us and our regional partners like the Saudis and Israel;The Iraq war was a precipitating event to the Arab Spring, which led to the Syrian civil war, which has allowed Russia and Iran to vastly increase their power and leverage over the region to our detriment.

        The mindset accepted by the American people after 9-11, that it was such a terrible calamity that nothing, absolutely nothing was too high a price to be paid has led directly to the craven surrender to government power that has almost unlimited power to surveil our every phone call, text, tweet and email.

        How to calculate the cost of a people who speak about “liberty” but meekly shuffle along in lines at the airport to have out bodies scanned, like some sad Terry Gilliam film?
        There is now a proposal to put face recognition software at turnstiles at the LA subways, something which pre 9-11 would have been a shocking and outrageous idea, yet now earns only a few whimpers of protest.

        How would any of us explain this state of affairs to a time traveler from 1964, when the biggest threat to American liberty was Medicare, such that Ronald Reagan warned it would lead to a day when today’s adults would look back and yearn for the freedoms they enjoyed then?

        I assert that in retrospect, the very best course of action after 9-11 would have been to make a negotiated peace with AQ, even to the point of withdrawing all our forces from the Saudi Kingdom (which was Bin Ladin’s chief goal in the first place).

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        • The cost of the wars is about 4 Trillion dollars in direct costs and almost 7,000 lives, and climbing. The cost of 9-11 was a few billion and 3,000 lives.

          I find it very unlikely that we can have 911 without going to war afterwards, but the current yearly cost of blowing AQ up in Afghanistan is trivial.

          the very best course of action after 9-11 would have been to make a negotiated peace with AQ

          This sounds a lot like rewarding actions that should be punished. If we’re going to reward that kind of action other actors (Russia, China) will certainly learn from it and behave accordingly.

          It also sounds like restructuring our entire foreign policy, including screwing over tight allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel, to appease the arabic equiv of the KKK. They don’t just want us out of SA, they also have a long list of other demands which we’d also consider non-starters.

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        • I’m going to join with Dark Matter. There was no way that any administration in the United States could suffer a direct foreign terrorist attack like 9/11, decide the best course of action was non-retaliatory or even to do nothing, and not face serious political consequences. Some sort of military action in Afghanistan was unavoidable. It could have been handled better or it might have been a giant muck up regardless of the person in charge but it was going to happen.

          Americans knew that we had the ability to employ force at great distances. The only way a country could suffer a direct terrorist attack from a foreign source without doing something is if the populace knows that their country could not project force. For instance, when Iran had Hizbollah launch a terrorist attack against the Jewish community of Argentina, Argentina did not retaliate because they had no capabilities to do so. If Iran really went of its rocker and decided to have Hizbollah bomb the 92nd Street Y in NYC, there would be US military action against Iran because we had force projection capabilities.

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          • Which may be true, but “21st century America was incapable of not reacting in a foolish and massively self destructive way” sounds like the epitaph for a great nation.

            What prompted this blog post is that American citizens have allowed themselves to believe that war is a free lunch endeavor, something that is painless, cost free, and has only upsides never any downsides.

            So our military become the Justice League, superheros who can never fail, and every war will have a happy ending by the time the credits roll.

            Americans, unlike the Argentines, literally have no sense of our national mortality. The idea that these actions could result in our destruction seems too hard to get our heads around. The idea that there could be other options, other courses of action seem beyond our imagination.

            So like drunks or addicts, we do what is comforting and familiar, even though we all know it is foolish.

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            • Can you come up with any example of any country reacting to a terrorist attack in this fabled productive way? My reading of history shows that counter-productive reactions are the norm. Argentina didn’t know their own mortality. They just didn’t have the capacity to respond and it happened that the victims weren’t really liked that much by most of Argentine society anyway.

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              • Every nation we have ever bombed, invaded or overthrown by coup has experienced a 9-11, on a larger scale.

                There are dozens of nations just in the past few decades where the United States has committed acts of war, yet it never occurs to us that this may, in the end, have consequences.

                The American government overthrew the rightful government of Chile. Once they regained control of their country, did the Chilean people demand a full scale war with America?
                Or did they swallow hard, look at their options, and get on with life?

                Our national vanity and hubristric inability to conceive of failure is our weakness, one that the world knows how to exploit.

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                  • Look at these nations, though.

                    Chile, Argentina, and the hundred or so other nations that aren’t superpowers, that don’t have the capacity to just wave a hand and launch a dozen cruise missiles without a thought.

                    Are they insecure? Oppressed? Crushed under tyranny?

                    Is there some form of engagment with the rest of the world that isn’t predicated on a binary choice of dominance or submission?

                    It should be a rhetorical question, but for America in 2018, its almost unthinkable.

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              • Can you come up with any example of any country reacting to a terrorist attack in this fabled productive way?

                Yes. Every nation we have ever bombed, invaded, or overthrown by coup.

                Like Chile, whose rightful government we overthrew. Once they regained their country, did the Chilean people demand full scale war with America? Or did they swallow hard, look at their options, and get on with life?

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                • Picture the KKK blowing up the world trade buildings (etc). Would you support the US government deciding to make peace with them by ending civil rights for Blacks/gays/jews/women(*)?

                  These are not reasonable people, and they’re not reasonable demands, and we’re not willing to entertain the concept that they are. No one in Iraq is willing to make peace with AQ-in-Iraq because even by Arabic standards, AQ-in-Iraq is still the equiv of a lunatic hate group like the KKK.

                  ((*) This isn’t that far from what AQ wants btw).

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                  • Picture the KKK blowing up the world trade buildings

                    You misspelled “Oklahoma City”.

                    No, AQ does NOT want us to restrict rights for American citizens. They really don’t care one bit what we do here to our own people. They want us to get out of the Holy Land, and let them settle their feuds with the respective other Islamic groups.

                    We made this into an existential battle with AQ only because it suited domestic politics to do so.
                    I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that we have lived very comfortably with the existence of repressive regimes all around the world when we wanted to.

                    But my point isn’t to lobby for one particular course of action, but to demonstrate that the one we chose was only one of many, but was selected because our warped and toxic vanity and hubris made all others almost literally unimaginable.

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                    • The goal of every Islamist group is to expand the influence of Islam. The only distinctions (in terms of goals) are which branch of Islam and which area they’re currently working in.

                      If you really believe in something, you want to see it spread. I don’t know your stance on gay marriage, but let’s say you support it, and Obergefell were overturned tomorrow. You’d campaign to have your state allow gay marriage. If you got it, would you stop there? Wouldn’t you support campaigns to promote gay marriage in all states, then in all countries? You need to show the same respect to Islamist groups that they truly believe in their cause and want the world to follow their beliefs.

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                          • The goal here is to show that our chosen response to 9-11 wasn’t necessary.

                            There are countless other examples of nations that suffered attacks, yet responded with some other form of response, proportional, and with the sober realization that war is a dangerous gamble and a drain on the treasury.

                            AQ has never come within a light year of posing a genuine threat to America, yet we responded like it was Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Poland combined.

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                            • AQ has never come within a light year of posing a genuine threat to America, yet we responded like it was Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Poland combined.

                              Preventing AQ from having the backing of a country was/is absurdly important. If North Korea can develope WMDs then any country can given enough time.

                              Pretending that they’re reasonable people who can be trusted to not use WMDs seems like a non-starter.

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                              • If i remember correctly the NK’s had the help of Pakistan in developing their nukes. AQ also had plenty of help from Saudi Arabia so they got that support stuff. But AQ has never been an existential threat to us. They are worthy of grinding down as much as possible. But not worth us doing stupid things that harm our long term interests.

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                              • Iran has witnessed how we behave towards a non-nuclear Iraq, versus a nuclear North Korea and is behaving accordingly.

                                When our foreign policy has only two settings- one basket of all sorts of complex nuanced measures for the Nuclear club, and total war for everyone else, what are the inevitable consequences?

                                And this was predicted, openly discussed ever since forever.

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                                • Before 911, AQ repeatedly attacked us and we DID respond in this “measured” way that you claim would be helpful.

                                  What AQ learned from this was that we were weak and they could simply keep attacking us. If they’d had nukes on 911 then they would have used them.

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      • I’ve said this before, but I completely reject the premise that there’s a direct connection between shi…sorry ‘ungoverned spaces’ and the capacity & will for terrorist attacks at US territory & other outposts of US actual or symbolic power. The 9/11 attacks were mostly planned in and supported from the unconquerable wildernesses of Hamburg, Germany and the state of Florida.

        My hot take is that the most cowardly decision Obama made as President was to re-introduce US ground troops into Iraq (which then became ground troops in Iraq and Syria)

        And also, mostly sign on to what Chip has for the cost calculations.

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